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Navigating the playground

ISTA member Lorie Shiveley shares what it’s like to be an educator as we celebrate Educator for a Day during American Education Week. She uses a playground metaphor to describe how an educator navigates teaching and learning today. 

Educators encounter a dynamic playground – whether they teach primary or secondary students. As we look around the playground and consider the various equipment, each with its own degree of rigor, our energy builds and motivates us to positively accept whatever comes our way. The equipment varies from challenging and intimidating to easy and exhilarating. In some cases, we would be more able to meet our challenges with the appropriate gear – but lack what we need, or it’s broken. So, where do we begin?

We begin on the swing set. At first, we decide on a strategy to get us going. Not everyone on the swings can start on their own, so we reach out and help each other. We finally begin pumping our legs and pulling on the chains until we reach new heights, but then the playground supervisor tells us we can use only one leg to pump higher.

How do we get to the highpoint of success (and student learning) when we are being told what we can and can’t do – even though we know what it takes to achieve our goal? Sweat drips from our foreheads, blisters show on our hands and tears begin to flow. Despite it all, we make it and feel as if we are floating in the clouds!

Next, the long turbo tube slide looks good. We can see on the outside that it is divided into different parts – turns, waves and straight, but what’s on the inside of the tube that will surprise us? It seems we will have to be flexible, cautious and willing to adjust our plan at any given moment to ensure we make it out unscathed. We may even have to back out and begin again if someone or something is blocking the tube. But wait! Now, there are many people looking down from the top watching every decision and move we make. It feels as if we may not succeed, but we go on hoping to please all the viewers (parents, administrators, political leaders). We made it to the end, but not everyone is pleased with how our feet hit the ground.

While on the top of the slide, we saw our greatest challenge of all – the spinning teeter-totter. We are intimidated by this object that goes up and down and spins (General Assembly). Will they listen? Can we work together? Will they treat us and respect us as trained professionals?

We jump on that teeter-totter and show them what and who we are. We are educators who know class sizes are too big, and our students have many more needs than ever before, especially mental health. We are professionals who know how to teach and do not need scripted lessons. We are experts who are not respected for continued professional development and the licensure we’ve earned. We are hard-working individuals who deserve a fair salary. We and our students are humans, not test scores.

In order for the spinning teeter-totter to work effectively, we must get on and share our ideas and strategies. We must make navigating the playground a rewarding and excellent experience for all by becoming involved in our local associations, reaching out to our elected officials or becoming leaders through National Board Certification.